More than 2,000 refugees have died during the pandemic as a result of illegal pushbacks by countries in the European Union (EU).
EU states, supported by EU border agency Frontex, have driven a mass operation to repel asylum seekers, according to analysis by the Guardian newspaper.
At least 40,000 refugees have been pushed back to states outside the EU since the start of the pandemic while attempting to cross Europe’s borders. Border guards have used illegal methods, such as violence and abuse.
In 2020 around 100,000 refugees crossed land and sea to reach Europe, compared to 130,000 in 2019 and 190,000 in 2017.
But, despite the numbers decreasing, border controls have been intensified by countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia and Malta. They have used the pandemic as an excuse to slam borders shut.
Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo is a leading immigration lawyer and lecturer in Italy. “Recent reports suggest an increase of deaths of migrants attempting to reach Europe,” he said. “And an increase of the collaboration between EU countries with non-EU countries such as Libya, which has led to the failure of several rescue operations.”
The Danish Refugee Council recorded almost 18,000 refugees pushed back by Croatia since the start of the pandemic.
The Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) announced this week that in 90 percent of testimonies from refugees in Croatia abuse was reported. It ranged from beatings, humiliation and sexual assault. This is a 10 percent increase from 2019.
And in April, Italy and Libya were accused of deliberately ignoring distress calls from boats. After one call, dozens of bodies were found hours later in the sea and 130 were declared lost at sea.
Alarm Phone, a migrant phone service for boats in need of urgent assistance, said many shipwrecks have never been officially accounted for.
“In many of the cases, European coastguards have refused to respond,” it said. “They rather chose to let people drown or to intercept them back to the place they had risked their lives to escape from. These deaths are on Europe.’’
Since the start of the pandemic Libyan authorities—supported by Italy—have pushed back over 15,500 refugees to Tripoli where many are forced into detention centres and tortured.
Matteo de Bellis from Amnesty International said that Frontex planes sight boats and communicate their position to Libyan coast guards.
Italy “used the pandemic as an excuse to declare that its ports were not safe for the disembarkation of people rescued at sea,” he said. “It had no problem with the Libyan coastguard returning people to Tripoli.”
And Greece has pushed back some 6,230 refugees from its borders. In 89 percent of push backs the BVMN “observed the disproportionate and excessive use of force.”
The Greek state has been accused in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) of towing rafts back to Turkish waters and abandoning them without any supplies.
Yet in February 2020 the ECHR was accused of “completely ignoring the reality” when it ruled Spain had not breached the ban on collective expulsion. In 2020, 788 migrants died trying to reach Spain.
Anti-racists must stand against the EU’s border regime, which locks out refugees who are fleeing war, poverty and persecution.